Safety Not Always Top Concern for the Government

Even the federal government puts profit over safety. Between 2010 and 2016, nine fatalities were reported of young, healthy men working alone in federal oil fields. Each death resulted from hydrocarbon exposure after opening the thief hatch to manually measure oil quantity in tanks. Adding a $2,000 automated measuring device could have prevented exposure. Adding the device to 83,000 tanks would cost $166 million or about $18.4 million dollars per fatality prevented. Assuming a 10% discount on a quantity order of 83,000 measuring devices would put the cost just under $150 million/$16.6 million each fatality

Oil companies say it would be cost prohibitive to install the devices. That argument may not hold much weight in the light of record profits oil companies have recently achieved. Even if they agreed to install these devices, it would take a significant amount of time to complete, and workers would remain at risk. Yet there is no mention or consideration for the use respiratory protection, which could be a simple and easy-to-implement safety measure that might save lives in the interim.

Regardless of oil company position, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not even allow the automated devices on these tanks, citing accuracy concerns. Ironically these devices are required on offshore rigs but not for Federal Land managed oil tanks. Good enough for offshore but not onshore? These hydrocarbon exposure fatalities (and injuries) are completely avoidable and yet the BLM will not prohibit the practice of hand measurement as they revise their 1989 rules.

Maybe the multiple lawsuits filed by the families of the deceased will push for change in the process of tank measurement. In the meantime, oil companies need to ensure that workers are trained properly on respiratory protection, fitted for PPE, and understand the risks of their positions.

Read the full story at NPR here.